The Second Great Awakening
The Second Great Awakening, which spread religion through revivals and emotional preaching, sparked a number of reform movements.
Summarize the central commitments and effects of the Second Great Awakening
- The Second Great Awakening was a Protestant revival movement during the early nineteenth century. The movement started around 1800, had begun to gain momentum by 1820, and was in decline by 1870.
- Revivals were a key part of the movement and attracted hundreds of converts to new Protestant denominations.
- The Methodist Church used circuit riders to reach people in frontier locations.
- The Second Great Awakening led to a period of antebellum social reform and an emphasis on salvation by institutions.
- Methodists: A movement of Protestant Christianity represented by a number of denominations and organizations, claiming a total of approximately 70 million adherents worldwide; the movement traces its roots to John Wesley’s evangelistic revival movement within Anglicanism.
- Baptist: Of or relating to a Protestant denomination of Christianity, which believes in the baptism of believers as opposed to the baptism of infants.
- Arminian: Of or relating to the religious philosophy founded by the Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius.
The Second Great Awakening was a Protestant revival movement during the early nineteenth century. The movement began around 1790 and gained momentum by 1800; after 1820, membership rose rapidly among Baptist and Methodist congregations, whose preachers led the movement. The Second Great Awakening began to decline by 1870. It enrolled millions of new members and led to the formation of new denominations. It has been described as a reaction against skepticism, deism, and rational Christianity, although why those forces became pressing enough at the time to spark revivals is not fully understood.
The Second Great Awakening expressed Arminian theology, by which every person could be saved through revivals, repentance, and conversion. Revivals were mass religious meetings featuring emotional preaching by evangelists such as the eccentric Lorenzo Dow. Many converts believed that the Awakening heralded a new millennial age. The Second Great Awakening stimulated the establishment of many reform movements designed to remedy the evils of society before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
The Second Great Awakening had a profound effect on American religious history. The numerical strength of the Baptists and Methodists rose relative to that of the denominations dominant in the colonial period, such as the Anglicans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Reformed.
The burst of religious enthusiasm that began in Kentucky and Tennessee in the 1790s and early 1800s among Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians owed much to the uniqueness of the early decades of the republic. These years saw swift population growth, broad western expansion, and the rise of participatory democracy. These political and social changes made many people anxious, and the more egalitarian, emotional, and individualistic religious practices of the Second Great Awakening provided relief and comfort for Americans experiencing rapid change. The awakening soon spread to the East, where it had a profound effect on Congregationalists and Presbyterians. The thousands swept up in the movement believed in the possibility of creating a much better world. Many adopted millennialism, the fervent belief that the Kingdom of God would be established on earth and that God would reign on earth for a thousand years, characterized by harmony and Christian morality. Those drawn to the message of the Second Great Awakening yearned for stability, decency, and goodness in the new and turbulent American republic.
Evangelizing the Frontiers
Congregationalists set up missionary societies to evangelize the western territory of the Northern Tier. Members of these groups acted as apostles for the faith, educators, and exponents of northeastern urban culture. The Second Great Awakening served as an organizing process that created, “a religious and educational infrastructure” across the western frontier that encompassed social networks, a religious journalism that provided mass communication, and church-related colleges. Publication and education societies promoted Christian education; most notable among them was the American Bible Society, founded in 1816.
Women made up a large part of these voluntary societies. The Female Missionary Society and the Maternal Association, both active in Utica, New York, were highly organized and financially sophisticated women’s organizations responsible for many of the evangelical converts of the New York frontier.
Each denomination that participated in the Second Great Awakening had assets that allowed it to thrive on the frontier. The Methodists had an efficient organization that depended on ministers known as “circuit riders,” who sought out people in remote frontier locations. The circuit riders came from among the common people, which helped them establish rapport with the frontier families they hoped to convert.
Relation to Social Reform
Social reform prior to the Civil War came largely out of this new devotion to religion. Efforts to apply Christian teaching to the resolution of social problems presaged the social gospel of the late nineteenth century. Converts were taught that to achieve salvation, they needed not only to repent for personal sin but also work for the moral perfection of society, which meant eradicating sin in all its forms. Thus, evangelical converts were leading figures in a variety of nineteenth-century reform movements.
Reforms took the shape of social movements for temperance, women’s rights, and the abolition of slavery. Social activists began efforts to reform prisons and care for the handicapped and mentally ill. They believed in the perfectibility of people and were highly moralistic in their endeavors. Many participants in the revival meetings believed that reform was a part of God’s plan. As a result, local churches saw their role in society as purifying the world through the individuals to whom they could bring salvation, as well as through changes in the law and the creation of institutions. Interest in transforming the world was applied to political action, as temperance activists, antislavery advocates, and proponents of other variations of reform sought to implement their beliefs into national politics. While religion had previously played an important role on the American political scene, the Second Great Awakening highlighted the important role which individual beliefs would play.
Unitarianism and Universalism
Unitarianism and Universalism were early Christian denominations that spread quickly during the nineteenth century.
Discuss the central commitments and development of Unitarianism and Universalism in the United States
- Unitarianism is a Christian theological movement named for its understanding of God as one person, in direct contrast to Trinitarianism, which defines God as three persons coexisting consubstantially as one in being.
- Unitarianism spread quickly through New England beginning in the mid-eighteenth century and was particularly influential in the theology of the Harvard Divinity School in the nineteenth century.
- The Universalist Church of America held that all human beings may be saved through Jesus Christ and would come to harmony in God’s kingdom.
- Universalism emerged in the late eighteenth century from a mixture of Anabaptists, Moravians, liberal Quakers, and people influenced by Pietist movements such as Methodism.
- monotheism: The belief in a single god (one God), especially within an organized religion.
- Unitarianism: A Christian theological movement, named for its understanding of God as one person, in direct contrast to the belief of God as three persons coexisting consubstantially as one in being.
- Universalism: In Christianity, the belief that all humans may be saved through Jesus Christ and eventually will come to harmony in God’s kingdom.
Unitarianism is a Christian theological movement named for its understanding of God as one person (in direct contrast to Trinitarianism, which defines God as three persons coexisting as one in being). Thus, Unitarians adhere to strict monotheism, maintaining that Jesus was a great man and a prophet of God but not God himself. Unitarianism began in Poland and Transylvania in the late sixteenth century and had reached England by the mid-seventeenth century.
As early as the middle of the eighteenth century, a number of clergymen in New England preached what was essentially Unitarianism. The most prominent of these men was Jonathan Mayhew (1720–1766), pastor of the West Church in Boston, who preached the strict unity of God, the subordinate nature of Christ, and salvation by character. Charles Chauncy (1705–1787), pastor of the First Church from 1727 until his death, was both a Unitarian and a Universalist.
The first official acceptance of the Unitarian faith on the part of a congregation was by King’s Chapel in Boston, which revised the prayer book into a mild Unitarian liturgy in 1785. From 1725 to 1825, Unitarianism gained ground in New England and other areas. Beginning in 1805, Unitarian books appeared by John Sherman and Noah Worcester. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, with one exception, all of the churches of Boston were occupied by Unitarian preachers, and various periodicals and organizations expressed Unitarian opinions. Churches were established in New York, Baltimore, Washington, Charleston, and elsewhere during this period.
The period of American Unitarianism from about 1800 to 1835 can be thought of as formative, mainly influenced by English philosophy, semi-supernatural, imperfectly rationalistic, and devoted to philanthropy and practical Christianity. In 1800, Joseph Stevens Buckminster became minister of the Brattle Street Church in Boston, where his sermons and literary activities helped shape the subsequent growth of Unitarianism in New England. Unitarian Henry Ware was appointed as the Hollis professor of divinity at Harvard College in 1805, and Harvard Divinity school then shifted from its conservative roots to teach Unitarian theology.
Buckminster’s close associate William Ellery Channing became the leader of the Unitarian movement. At first mystical rather than rationalist in his theology, he took part with the “Catholic Christians,” as they called themselves, who aimed at bringing Christianity into harmony with the progressive spirit of the time. His essays, “The System of Exclusion and Denunciation in Religion” (1815) and “Objections to Unitarian Christianity Considered” (1819) made him a defender of Unitarianism.
The result of the “Unitarian Controversy” in 1815 was a growing division in the Congregational churches, which was emphasized in 1825 by the formation of the American Unitarian Association at Boston. The association published books, supported poor churches, sent out missionaries, and established new churches in nearly every state.
The Universalist Church of America, which held that all human beings may be saved through Jesus Christ and would come to harmony in God’s kingdom, emerged in the late eighteenth century from a mixture of Anabaptists, Moravians, liberal Quakers, and people influenced by Pietist movements such as Methodism. Americans from these religious backgrounds gradually created a new denominational tradition of Christian Universalism during the nineteenth century. The Universalist Church of America grew to be the sixth-largest denomination in the United States at its peak.
John Murray, who is called the “Father of American Universalism,” was a central figure in the founding of the Universalist Church of America in 1793. He served as pastor of the Universalist Society of Boston and wrote many hymns. Another important figure in early American Christian Universalism was George de Benneville, a French Huguenot preacher and physician who was imprisoned for advocating Universalism and later emigrated to Pennsylvania, where he continued preaching on the subject. Noted for his friendly and respectful relationship with American Indians and his pluralistic and multicultural view of spiritual truth, George de Benneville was well ahead of his time.
Other significant early modern Christian Universalist leaders included Elhanan Winchester, a Baptist preacher who wrote several books promoting the universal salvation of all souls after a period in purgatory and founded a church that ministered to African-American slaves in South Carolina; Hosea Ballou, a Universalist preacher in New England; and Hannah Whitall Smith, a writer and evangelist from a Quaker background who was active in the women’s suffrage and temperance movements.
Women and Church Governance
Women constituted the majority of converts and participants in the Second Great Awakening and played an important informal role in religious revivals.
Assess the role of women in the religious revivals of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
- During the antebellum period, the Second Great Awakening inspired advocacy for a number of reform topics, including women’s rights.
- While they constituted the majority of converts and participants, women were not formally indoctrinated and did not hold leading ministerial positions.
- Women did, however, become very important informally, as they facilitated conversion and religious upbringing of their children. Women usually acted in their “status quo” duties, teaching the virtues of motherhood and domesticity.
- To appeal to this women’s movement, sermons often “feminized” Christ.
- antebellum reform: Societal changes undertaken by American Christians in the late 1800s, including in the temperance, women’s-rights, and abolitionism movements.
Women and the Second Great Awakening
Women made up the majority of the converts during the Second Great Awakening and therefore played a crucial role in its development and focus. It is not clear why women converted in larger numbers than men. Several scholarly theories attribute the large number of conversions in part to women’s assumption of greater religiosity. Conversion allowed women to shape identities and form community in a time of economic and personal insecurity and to assert themselves even in the face of male disapproval. Conversion may even have served as a reaction to the perceived sinfulness of youthful frivolity. Some women, especially in the South, encountered opposition to their conversion from their husbands and had to choose between submission to God or to the head of the household. While there is no single reason women joined the revival movement, the revival provided many women with shared experiences. Church membership and religious activity gave women peer support and a place for meaningful activity outside of the home.
While they constituted the majority of converts and participants, women were not formally indoctrinated and did not hold leading ministerial positions. They did occasionally take on public roles during revivals. They preached or prayed aloud on rare occasions, but they were more likely to give testimonials of their conversion experience or work through the conversion process directly with sinners (who could be male or female). Women’s prayer was seen by leaders such as Charles Finney as a crucial aspect in preparing a community for revival and improving the revival’s efficacy.
Though they typically held no formal leadership roles, women became very important informally in the process of conversion and in the religious upbringing of their children through family structure and through their maternal roles. During the period of the revivals, mothers—who were seen as the moral and spiritual foundation of the family—used their teaching and influence to pass religion to their children.
The rising number of women congregants influenced the doctrine preached by ministers as well. In an effort to give sermons that would resonate with the congregation, Christ was gradually “feminized” in this period to stress his humility and forgiveness.
Despite the influential part they played in the Second Great Awakening, these women still largely acted within their “status quo” roles as mothers and wives. The change in women’s roles came mostly from their participation in increasingly formalized missionary and reform societies. During the antebellum period, the Second Great Awakening inspired advocacy for a number of reform topics, including women’s rights. Antebellum reform in areas such as women’s rights was affected not only by political enthusiasm, but also by religious or spiritual enthusiasm. Women’s prayer groups were an early and socially acceptable form of women’s organization. Through their positions in these organizations, women played a role outside of the domestic sphere.
In the new frontier regions, the revivals of the Second Great Awakening took the form of vast and exhilarating camp meetings.
Describe the revival meetings characteristic of the Second Great Awakening
- Camp meetings on the frontier attracted tens of thousands of worshippers who gathered for several days in large tents and listened to several different preachers in rotation.
- The preaching emphasized personal sins and salvation through Christ.
- Camp meetings were often the first experience settlers had with organized religion, and the meetings were a key recruiting method for the Methodists and Baptists.
- The Restoration Movement, which came out of an early camp meeting, focused on a fundamentalist interpretation of the New Testament and the establishment of a personal relationship with God.
- Restoration Movement: A Christian development that began on the American frontier during the Second Great Awakening of the early nineteenth century.
- camp meetings: A form of Protestant Christian religious service, originating in Britain and once common in some parts of the United States, which involved people traveling from a large area to a particular site to listen to itinerant preachers and pray.
- Second Great Awakening: A Christian revival movement during the early nineteenth century in the United States.
Revivals on the Frontier
In the newly settled frontier regions, the revivals of the Second Great Awakening took the form of camp meetings. These meetings were often the first experience settlers had with organized religion. The camp meeting was a religious service of several days’ length involving multiple preachers. Settlers in thinly populated areas would gather at the camp meeting for fellowship. The sheer exhilaration of participating in a religious revival, with crowds of hundreds and perhaps thousands of people, inspired the dancing, shouting, and singing associated with these events.
The revivals typically followed an arc of great emotional power and emphasized the individual’s sins and need to turn to Christ, and subsequent personal salvation. Upon their return home, most converts joined or created small local churches, which resulted in rapid growth for small religious institutions. With the effort of such leaders as Barton W. Stone (1772–1844) and Alexander Campbell (1788–1866), the camp meeting revival became a major mode of church expansion for denominations such as the Methodists and Baptists.
One of the early camp meetings took place in July 1800 at Gasper River Church in southwestern Kentucky. A much larger gathering was later held at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, in 1801, attracting perhaps as many as 20,000 people. Numerous Presbyterian, Baptist, and Methodist ministers participated in the services. The Cumberland Presbyterian Church emerged in Kentucky, and Cane Ridge was instrumental in fostering what became known as the “Restoration Movement,” which was made up of nondenominational churches committed to what they saw as the original, fundamental Christianity of the New Testament. They were committed to individuals achieving a personal relationship with Christ.
Charles Finney and the Burned-Over District
The “Burned-Over District” in central and western New York was so named due to the rampant religious revivals of the nineteenth century.
Identify the key religious movements that emerged out of the western New York frontier
- The “Burned-Over District” of upstate New York was a region that proved especially susceptible to the religious revivals of the early and mid-nineteenth century.
- The term was coined in 1876 by Charles Grandison Finney, who argued that the area had been so heavily evangelized as to have no “fuel” (unconverted population) left over to “burn” (convert). This region provided not only thousands of mainline Protestant converts, but also a number of new religions, utopian experiments, and social radicals.
- American religious leaders such as Joseph Smith, Jr., William Miller, and the Fox sisters all came from the district; the Shakers were established in the area as well.
- spiritualism: A philosophic doctrine opposing materialism that claims transcendency of the divine being, the altogether spiritual character of reality, and the value of inwardness of consciousness.
- shaker: One of a Christian Protestant religious sect who do not marry, popularly so called because of the movements of the members in dancing, which forms a part of their worship.
The “Burned-Over District” refers to the religious scene in early nineteenth-century western and central New York, where religious revivals and Pentecostal movements of the Second Great Awakening took place. The term was coined in 1876 by Charles Grandison Finney, who argued that the area had been so heavily evangelized as to have no “fuel” (unconverted population) left over to “burn” (convert).
Charles Grandison Finney (August 29, 1792–August 16, 1875) was a leader in the Second Great Awakening and has been called “The Father of Modern Revivalism.” Finney was an innovative revivalist, an opponent of Old School Presbyterian theology, an advocate of Christian Perfectionism, a pioneer in social reforms in favor of women and African Americans, a religious writer, and president at Oberlin College.
Born in 1792 in western New York, Finney studied to be a lawyer until 1821, when he experienced a religious conversion and thereafter devoted himself to revivals. He led revival meetings in New York and Pennsylvania, but his greatest success occurred after he accepted a ministry in Rochester, New York, in 1830. At the time, Rochester was a boomtown because the Erie Canal had brought a lively shipping business.
The new middle class—an outgrowth of the Industrial Revolution—embraced Finney’s message. It fit perfectly with their understanding of themselves as people shaping their own destiny. Workers also latched onto the message that they, too, could control their salvation, spiritually and perhaps financially. Intense flames of religious fervor swept the area of western New York during this time, in large part due to Finney’s work.
Religious Movements in Western New York
Western New York still had a frontier quality at the time, making professional and established clergy scarce. This contributed to the piety of the area and many of the self-taught qualities found in folk religion. Besides producing many mainline Protestant converts, especially in nonconformist sects, the area spawned a number of innovative religious movements, all founded by laypeople during the early nineteenth century.
Joseph Smith, Jr., founded the Latter Day Saint movement, which later gave rise to Mormonism. The Fox sisters conducted some of the first table-rapping seances and helped inspire Spiritualism. The first communal Shaker farm was established in this area of New York during this period. William Miller and his followers, called Millerites, believed that the Second Coming would occur on October 22, 1844. Miller is credited with beginning the religious movement now known as “Adventism,” and several major religious denominations are his direct spiritual heirs, such as Seventh-day Adventists and Advent Christians.
Mormonism, the principal branch of the Latter Day Saint religious and cultural movement, emerged in the 1800s in upstate New York.
Summarize the early history of the Mormon Church
- Mormonism is the principal branch of the Latter Day Saint religious and cultural movement. The movement began with the visions of Joseph Smith, Jr., in the “Burned-Over District” of upstate New York. Smith presented himself as a prophet and aimed to recapture what he viewed as the purity of the primitive Christian church that had been lost over the centuries. To Smith, this meant restoring male leadership.
- In 1830, Smith published The Book of Mormon and organized the Church of Christ in upstate New York.
- Due to persecution, the Mormons first moved to Ohio and then to Missouri. They were later expelled from Missouri, and so they built the city of Nauvoo, Illinois.
- After Smith was assassinated in 1844, Brigham Young and the Quorum of the Twelve took leadership of the church and led followers to a city near the Great Salt Lake in Utah.
- Quorum of the Twelve: One of the governing bodies in the hierarchy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) made up of apostles with the calling to be prophets, seers, revelators, evangelical ambassadors, and special witnesses of Jesus Christ.
- burned-over district: The religious scene in the western and central regions of New York in the early 1800s, where religious revivals and Pentecostal movements of the Second Great Awakening took place.
- polygamy: The marriage of a man to more than one wife, or the practice of having several wives at the same time.
The Development of Mormonism
Mormonism is the principal branch of the Latter Day Saint religious and cultural movement. The movement began with the visions of Joseph Smith, Jr., in the “Burned-Over District” of upstate New York, which was so called for the intense flames of religious revival that swept across the region.
Smith came from a large Vermont family that had not prospered in the new market economy and moved to the town of Palmyra, New York. In 1823, Smith claimed to have to been visited by the angel Moroni, who told him the location of a trove of golden plates or tablets. During the late 1820s, Smith translated the writing on the golden plates, and in 1830, he published his finding as The Book of Mormon. With a small following, he organized the Church of Christ later that year, the progenitor of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints popularly known as “Mormons.” He presented himself as a prophet and aimed to recapture what he viewed as the purity of the primitive Christian church—purity he believed had been lost over the centuries. To Smith, this meant restoring male leadership.
Smith emphasized the importance of families being ruled by fathers. His vision of a reinvigorated patriarchy resonated with men and women who had not thrived during the market revolution, and his claims attracted those who hoped for a better future. Smith’s new church placed great emphasis on work and discipline. He aimed to create a New Jerusalem where the church would exercise oversight of its members.
Moving Westward: The Mormon Exodus
After the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) in 1830, members were often harshly treated by their neighbors, partially due to their religious beliefs and sometimes as a reaction against the actions and the words of the LDS Church and its members and leaders. This harsh treatment caused the body of the Church to move—first from New York to Ohio, then to Missouri, and then to Illinois, where church members built the city of Nauvoo.
Smith’s claims of translating the golden plates antagonized his neighbors in New York. Difficulties with anti-Mormons led him and his followers to move to Kirtland, Ohio, in 1831. By 1838, as the United States experienced continued economic turbulence following the Panic of 1837, Smith and his followers were facing financial collapse after a series of efforts in banking and moneymaking ended in disaster. They moved to Missouri, but trouble soon developed there as well, as citizens reacted against the Mormons’ beliefs. The 1838 Mormon War with other Missouri settlers ensued, culminating in the expulsion of adherents from the state. After leaving Missouri, Smith built the city of Nauvoo, Illinois, near which he was assassinated in 1844.
After Smith’s death, a succession crisis ensued, and a majority voted to accept the Quorum of the Twelve, led by Brigham Young, as the church’s leading body. The assassination of Smith made it clear the faith could not remain in Nauvoo—which the church had purchased, improved, renamed, and developed. The Mormon exodus began in 1846 when, in the face of these conflicts, Young decided to abandon Nauvoo and establish a new home for the church in the Great Basin. According to church belief, God inspired Young to call for the Saints (as church members call themselves) to organize and head west, beyond the western frontier of the United States (into what was then Mexico, though the U.S. Army had already captured New Mexico and California in late 1846).
Young led his followers along the Mormon Trail, a 1,300-mile route that Mormon pioneers traveled from Nauvoo, Illinois, to Salt Lake City, Utah. The journey, taken by about 70,000 people, began with church fathers sending out advanced parties in March of 1846. In the spring of 1847, Young led the vanguard company to the Salt Lake Valley, which was then outside the boundaries of the United States and which later became Utah. The period (including the flight from Missouri in 1838 to Nauvoo) known as the “Mormon Exodus” is, by convention among social scientists, traditionally assumed to have ended with the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869. Wagon train migrations to the far west continued sporadically until the twentieth century, but not everyone could afford to uproot and transport a family by railroad, and the transcontinental railroad network only serviced limited main routes.
Today a vast majority of Mormons are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), while a minority are members of other churches. Some Mormons are also either independent or non-practicing. Utah is the center of Mormon cultural influence, and North America has more Mormons than any other continent, though the majority of Mormons live outside the United States.
Mormons have developed a strong sense of community that stems from their doctrine and history. During the 1800s, Mormon converts tended to gather to a central geographic location. Between 1852 and 1890, many Mormons openly practiced plural marriage, a form of religious polygamy. Mormons dedicate large amounts of time and resources to serving in their church, and many young Mormons choose to serve a full-time proselytizing mission. Mormons have a health code that eschews alcoholic beverages, tobacco, coffee, tea, and other addictive substances. They tend to be very family-oriented and have strong connections across generations and with extended family. Mormons also follow strict laws of chastity, requiring abstention from sexual relations outside of marriage and strict fidelity within marriage.
Mormons self-identify as Christian, though some of their beliefs differ from mainstream Christianity. Mormons believe in the Bible, as well as other books of scripture, such as the Book of Mormon. They have a unique view of cosmology and believe that all people are spirit children of God. Mormons believe that returning to God requires following the example of Jesus Christ and accepting his atonement through ordinances such as baptism. They believe that Christ’s church was restored through Joseph Smith and is guided by living prophets and apostles. The belief that God speaks to his children and answers their prayers is central to Mormon faith.